Citing facility maintenance costs, increased operation expenses and debt refinancing, the Lake Holcombe School Board will place two referenda on the ballot in November.
The tax levy increases requested by the district would total about $1.6 million.
School board President Corey Grape said one of the items up for vote is for $950,000 to cover the school’s facility renovation costs and to refinance existing debt.
The district aims to renovate the school’s science rooms and gymnasium.
“We need money to fix portions of the school that need to be fixed,” Superintendent Tom Goulet said. “We can't do that with our budget; it’s too expensive. And as far as taking care of our debt and maintaining refinancing, we have to be able to do that too.”
Grape said the district’s existing debt was converted to bonds that are coming due for payment, so this referendum item would allow the board to roll these bonds into the construction projects — making for one total debt.
The other referendum item is $685,000 to help offset operating expenses.
“Our projected (2012-2013) budget will be over income by $250,000,” Grape said.
This deficit stems from ever-increasing expenses, such as insurance and transportation, and decreasing student enrollment. State aid has not kept up with the district’s needs.
Goulet said the school board has cut about $287,000 from the next year’s budget. These include the employee benefit changes mandated by state law, such as increased insurance and retirement contributions.
However, further state aid cuts, estimated to be down about $292,000 for the district, outstrip these savings.
“That difference is pretty significant for a small rural district,” Grape said.
Other budget cuts include eliminating the district’s early retirement program, cutting three special education aides and reducing the superintendent and certain teachers to part-time status.
Lake Holcombe also co-ops with nearby Cornell and Bruce school districts on some classes and extracurricular activities to save more money.
“We've pretty much done what we could as far as the options are concerned,” Goulet said. “The only other option is to cut more programs. That's it.”
Is the school’s survival in question? Not yet, Goulet said, as Lake Holcombe’s problems are shared by many other small districts across the state. But there is a sense of urgency to solve the financial issues, especially with refinancing.
Grape said after examining the available options, the board feels the referenda are the best solution for the district.
“We knew if we want to stay strong and competitive as a school we have to go to voters,” Grape said. “We’re trying to be proactive instead of reactive.”
But he admits it’s a tough sell, given the economic climate.
Grape said he personally has not heard any negative responses to the referenda, saying the community is aware of the school’s plight.
“I think the parents — myself included — understand the need,” Grape said. “Everyone’s economic situation is tight right now, but everyone understands where this is coming from. The school is the center of a small community.”